Who we are

The Lost Towns Project is a team of professional archaeologists and historians, working closely with the government of Anne Arundel County, Maryland to discover and explore the County's rich heritage. The team is committed to sharing the discovery process of this incredible heritage with the public through hands-on experiences, publications, lectures, and exhibits. In this blog, we will share some of our exciting discoveries, updates, and events. Check out our website at www.losttownsproject.org for much more, or to learn how to become a volunteer or intern! No experience is required to assist us in field investigations, laboratory studies, archival research, and interpretive programs. Join us to rediscover the History in your own backyards!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Monocacy Battlefield and Best Farm field trip

Written by Suzanne Duvall, Lost Towns Project intern. 

During my internship, Lauren Schiszik, internship coordinator, organized two field trips. I was only able to go to one of them: Monocacy Battlefield in Frederick. After a tour of the battlefield we went to the Best Farm, and toured a slave village that is currently being excavated by archaeologists with the National Park Service.

I know that Monocacy Battlefield isn’t as famous as nearby Gettysburg or Antietam, but if not for this battle, the South may have risen and overcome the North during the Civil War. The Confederacy was trying to overtake Washington, D.C., approaching from north of Frederick, MD. Union troops intercepted at the Monocacy River outside of Frederick. The Confederate Army were able to push back the Northern troops and win the battle of Monocacy. But in the end, the North really won, because the Battle of Monocacy slowed the Confederate troops long enough to get enforcements to protect Washington, D.C., stopping the Confederacy’s plan to overtake the Capitol.
Interns Madelyn Santa (above) and Alex Zerphy (below) both try out being a young soldier in Monocacy's Visitor Center.

After we learned the history of the battle and driven around the battlefield, we took a tour of the Best Farm slave village. The National Park Service archaeologists at Monocacy Battlefield are finishing up another summer season excavating the site, and graciously gave us an in-depth tour of the slave village and the Best Farmhouse. Best Farm is located on what is now Monocacy Battlefield, though it predates the battlegrounds by over 100 years. It was interesting because it was very different from any other plantation built in the 1700s in Frederick.

Interns take a break on the front steps of the Best Farmhouse.

Best Farm is what remains of a much larger plantation owned by the Vincendière family, who had been sugar plantation owners in the Caribbean. During the late 1700’s there were slave riots in Haiti and they fled the country to protect themselves. When they arrived in Maryland they modeled their new plantation, L'Hermitage, off of their plantation in Haiti. The Manor House design was different from typical homes in this part of Maryland, because the family designed it to look like their home in Haiti. That meant that the Manor House had tall ceilings and big windows. Maryland, as we all know, has hot summers and cold winters, and the Vincendières design for the house did not protect them from the weather, but made winters very cold and summers very hot. 

Another difference from typical Maryland plantations was that the slave quarters were placed in front of the Manor House for all to see, along a road. Generally in Maryland in the 1700s, slave quarters were located behind the house, or by the fields. The Vincendières could view the slave quarters at all times from their house, making sure that their slaves knew they were being watched both by their owners. The Vincendières didn’t want their slaves to riots. Immigration records from that time indicate that plantation owners coming from the Caribbean couldn’t bring more than 10-12 slaves into America. Since slaves in the Caribbean were rioting, Americans didn’t want their slaves to get the same notions. So they controlled the immigration numbers, in hopes of controlling the slaves. The Vincendière family brought the maximum number of slaves into America with them.

However, the Vincendieres didn’t waste their time purchasing new slaves once they settled in Frederick. The plantation records show that there were around 100 slaves, yet there was no known commercial trade at the plantation. That means that the family really only needed 20-30 slaves to handle the crops grown on that plantation, not 100 slaves. The archaeologists are making discoveries that might explain the reason for the large amount of slaves owned by the family. However, what is known is that the slaves were treated horribly, based on written records. 

Kate Birmingham, NPS archaeologist, gives us a tour of the slave village. Note the overseer's house in the distance.
We were taken on a tour of the slave village, where we saw the remains of a few of the quarters, including the stone hearth of one of the five slave buildings. While the slave village was under direct watch of the Plantation owners, recent excavations show that the communal kitchen area was located behind the slave’s quarters, out of view from the Vincendières. This shows that the slaves were trying to take any piece of their lives back from their owners. This revelation was a glimpse into the lives of the slaves, and the lives they endured.
All in all it was a day full of exciting war stories, and an interesting history of the Best Farm. The battle at Monocacy changed the course of the Civil War, and the Vincendière’s are a mystery to archaeologists trying to uncover their life in the late 1700’s.

Learn more about the excavations of the Best Farm Slave Village here.

The Lab Life of an Artifact

 Written by Sarah Woodling, Lost Towns Project intern

In most cases of archaeological work, the field gets the spotlight. After all, that is where the cool stuff is found. But what happens after that? Where does the cool stuff go? Off to the lab, of course! Lab work is a part of the process as much as fieldwork, though it hardly gets the attention it deserves. Without it, there would be cases upon cases upon cases of dirty pieces of rock that someone, somewhere found in a hole that one time, and none of it would be of use to anyone.

The laboratory work at London Town is a step-by-step process of washing, identifying, labeling and cataloging, and each step is equally important. When artifacts come in from the field, they are in labeled plastic bags. The labels contain information such as: the site number (for London Town: 18AN48, and Pig Point: 18AN50), the lot number, the unit or feature number, the stratum, the coordinates, and, in most cases, the date it came out of the ground. Each bag is checked in and set on the ‘to be washed’ shelf. And here we have the first step in lab work: washing. Using strainers and tubs in deep sinks, artifacts are carefully wet-brushed, which means they are scrubbed with a toothbrush or something similar to get the excess dirt off. Ensuring this first step is done well makes life far easier down the line. So now, we are left with clean artifacts but before anything else can be done with them, they have to sit out overnight and dry completely.

Step two is where the now clean and dry artifacts are sorted and re-bagged. Archaeologists take a look at each item that was collected from the field and decide if, first of all, it is actually an artifact. Sometimes ordinary pebbles and other non-cultural rocks end up in the trays to be sorted and they are thrown out. If the item is an actual artifact, we then sort it by type. Bones, shell, and other organic materials must be sorted from the quartz, quartzite, quartz conglomerate and other rocks, and in turn, each of those must be separated, until you have many different piles of similar artifacts. That includes, but is not limited to: fire cracked rock (FCR), chert, earthenware, stoneware, porcelain, flakes, shatters, rhyolite, brick, nails, and many other different things that we find at our dig sites. When each pile is placed into a new bag, every individual bag is given its own bag tag, and the provenience is written on the outside of the bag in permanent marker.

Labeling the artifacts themselves comes next. This third step is probably the most time-consuming, but it is very useful. Using a non-harmful adhesive, a tiny strip of paper with the site and lot number on it is glued to each artifact. This allows the artifacts to be removed from their bags and looked at, and helps immensely when it comes to putting them all away. It also serves as a safety measure, just in case the bag and bag tag are both lost or mixed up. This is important because an artifact, no matter how fascinating it may be, is only as important as the context in which it was found. Without that, artifacts are just nice to look at and don’t provide clues to what was happening in that time period. After the glue is applied, the artifacts must again sit out for several hours or overnight to allow time to dry.

The fourth and final step is cataloging. In order to make sure that all of the work that went into to washing, rebagging, and labeling the artifacts does not go to waste, the bags are cataloged. The boxes eventually go into storage and if they are not cataloged correctly, trying to retrieve them can be virtually impossible. This also provides a way to easily look at the broader spectrum of what was found in larger areas, as opposed to confined to what was found in one lot number. This gives more context and allows for hypotheses to be made about the area and the people who lived there.

Perhaps we should not give lab work the short end of the attention stick - that’s where half the important stuff happens!

Comparative Anatomy

Written by Rachelle Epstein, Lost Towns intern.

As a subfield of anthropology, archaeology uses several of the techniques of physical anthropology, the study of the physical development of the human species, to answer its many confounding questions. It is the same here at the Lost Towns Project! This summer, we have worked on the historic site of Rumney’s Tavern at London Town in addition to the prehistoric site at Pig Point, and in both of these sites we have come across fragmentary remains of animals past. If we are able to identify the remains of these animals, we may be able to determine what our ancestors here were hunting and eating. However, this is not quite as simple as it sounds. In an effort to figure out what animals these bones belong to, we must have similar remains to compare them with. So, here at the Lost Towns Project, we are using the methods of Comparative Anatomy to answer our questions.

Raccoon skeleton used for comparing with new bones that we find.

Comparative anatomy was first established by Georges Cuvier in France in 1800. Today, archaeologists and physical anthropologists alike use this method to study physical features among animal species. These shared or different characteristics among animals are used to reconstruct a fossil species from usually incomplete remains. We have found many of these remains at both of our active sites this summer, and in an effort to figure out who these little mammals are, we are working hard in the lab to assemble the remains of many small mammals for comparison. The picture shown is of a recently deceased raccoon, who we have reassembled and labeled so that we can compare the sizes and shapes of his bones to those we found this summer, and those we find in the future!